Q&A: How Principal Evans Helped De Anza Set the Gold Standard

Interview • Malcolm Marshall

photo credit: De Anza High School

photo credit: De Anza High School

EDITOR’S NOTE: Richmond’s De Anza High School recently received a Gold Ribbon Schools Award from the California Department of Education. The award recognizes schools that have made gains implementing the academic content and performance standards adopted by the State Board of Education.

According to the West Contra Costa Unified School District website, De Anza has seen significant improvement in several key indicators in recent years, including a nearly 5 percent increase in its graduation rate and a nearly 10 percent reduction in its dropout rate.

Richmond Pulse interviewed De Anza principal Robert Evans at a recent school board meeting where he and members of his staff were honored for the achievement. Evans says teaching remains his first love. He arrived at De Anza five years ago to “give back to the Bay Area community and try to help raise kids the proper way.”

Richmond Pulse: What is the most important thing you brought to De Anza?

Robert Evans: The biggest thing we lacked was developing relationships. My philosophy is once you’ve built relationships, then we collaborate to have communication. I don’t care how smart a kid is, I don’t care how difficult a parent is; once you break down the walls and develop trust, everybody can work together to collaborate and you come out successful, because then you develop into [a] community as a team.

RP: How do you define success?

RE: We talk about teaching the full student. It’s got to be academics, obviously; but you have social skills, athletic skills, you’ve got to find out — whether it be music skills, visual performing arts — what drives a kid, each kid. That means you’ve got to get personal, to understand what drives each child and what those strengths are, their passions. Why do they want to come to school? You have to give children a reason to want to come to school every day, so [that] it’s exciting. When we did that, we saw our attendance rate go up. The kids want to be there.

With teachers, my philosophy is to point them [to] their passion — because if it’s their passion, it’s not work for them. All I do is just kind of corral them and point them in the right direction and let them go.

RP: What has changed the most on campus?

RE: I see a change in the culture, kids focusing on their academic grades, because now on campus it’s cool to be smart. It’s not cool to be dumb. They’re like, “I’ve got my 4.3, I’ve got my 3.8.” Struggling kids going, “Mr. Evans, I got a 1.9, I got to get to a 2.” Having over 50 percent of your kids make honor roll and the principal’s list, that means over 50 percent are over 3.0 and 3.5. Those are the things I’m excited to see.

RP: So many teachers and administrators burn out over time. Where do you get your passion from?

RE: It’s just been very exciting for me. I just go 100 miles an hour, whether it’s in the morning or late at night. We do a lot of things at football games, basketball games, soccer games — you try to be at all of those different types of things. Then you’ve got to focus on them in the classroom as well. You look at every single kid and say, “Which way do they learn? What’s their learning modality?” Then you have to take an array of teaching strategies and match those things.

It’s the same thing with my staff. I look for staff that that have excitement. You’ve got to be motivated. I tell teachers all the time it’s like being on stage: You’ve got to go 100 percent all the time, because you’re “on”. It takes a lot of energy, a lot of strength — but whatever it takes, you’ve got to do that.

RP: You are now moving on to work in the district office. What’s next for you?

RE: Since I just officially got a new promotion into the district office, my role now is to help move the [entire] secondary program of West Contra Costa in the same direction that we took De Anza. I’m going to be the coordinator of educational services in the secondary schools.

RP: Is it bittersweet to leave De Anza?

RE: Yeah, it is. When you’ve had a family that you’ve really been excited for, you don’t like leaving. But at the same time, it’s an opportunity to help more of the district. It was like when I left teaching: I was a teacher, and then I became an assistant principal to help the school overall. So now [it’s] just a larger role, and I can help more people.

What Are Students Eating? A Teen Research Team Looks To Find Out








By Chanelle Ignant

A team of high school students from across the West Contra Costa Unified School District is asking: “What are we eating?”

Teens from the nonprofit group YES Nature To Neighborhoods have conducted a research project into the nutrition of meals served in the district’s 11 high schools.

Gustavo Chavez, a sophomore at De Anza High School and member of the organization’s “youth engagement team”, said many of his peers don’t prefer the school meals, a view that inspired the eight-student team to get involved.

“A lot of people really dislike them, so we tried to figure out what’s inside of them and how can we change them to make them better,” said Chavez.

According to Chavez, this push to improve lunches reflects the connection between nutrition and academic performance.

“We want better quality school lunches, so that kids aren’t going through their day without nutrition, so that they can perform better,” he said.

According to Director of Food Services, Barbara Jellison, over 3.3 million lunches were served to students throughout WCCUSD during the 2013-2014 school year. With an impact this great, the Richmond Food Policy Council — which works to ensure that the local food system reflects the needs of the community — described the district’s cafeteria system as “the biggest restaurant in the county”.

Students, however, say the restaurant doesn’t please its patrons.

Most kids don’t eat school lunches,” said Gillian Linsy, a senior at Pinole Valley High School and fellow member of the Youth Participatory Action Research project, an annual program at YES that focuses on wellness in the Richmond community. “They would rather bring something from home or not eat at all.”

The project intends to address this disconnect.

“The ultimate goal is to raise awareness and put pressure on the administration to continue to work towards healthy lunch for all the students,” said Adam Smith, assistant youth coordinator for the team.

For their research, students used pictures of lunches to create a photo-voice presentation. They also interviewed Jellison, as well as cafeteria staff throughout the district about the process of making lunches.

The students, however, said the staff couldn’t answer some of their questions.

“Sometimes they wouldn’t even know,” said Chavez. “Not even the cafeteria members know how the food is made.”

The students also researched the nutrition of the food served each week — and discovered that they couldn’t find the information online.

Likewise, the district’s limited financial resources surprised researchers the most. According to their findings, schools have $3 per student for a lunch — but half of that goes to labor.

“Only about $1.50 for students, just to eat a full lunch,” Chavez said. “That’s their main meal [for the day].”

Team members continue to compile their findings, and plan to share them with the local food council as part of its campaign for healthy school food.

This year’s research project joins a similar student project last year by the Urban Nutrition Initiative, the youth leadership arm of the Bay Area Resource Center. Those students, mostly from Gompers Continuation High School, also investigated the district’s school lunch quality, interviewing their peers about cafeteria food.

Claire Zurlo, youth coordinator at the resource center, said last year’s project gave students the opportunity to reach out beyond their small campus.

“It was helpful for them to do something that impacted the rest of the district,” she said.

Linsy confirmed that students are happy to make a difference.

“I think that just getting our voices heard is big, and hopefully [we’re] making a change,” she said.

Students Weigh In On School Spending Priorities

Compiled By David Meza

At a recent town hall meeting, West Contra Costa Unified School District students had the chance to give their direct input into how educational money should be spent for the upcoming 2015-2016 school year.

The April 16 meeting at Helms Middle School in San Pablo, also gave students information about the Local Control Funding Formula, the new state law put into effect in 2013 that dramatically reformed the way California funds its schools — focusing on high-need students, such as those from low incomes, English learners and foster youth.

As part of the new law, school districts must develop a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which requires school districts to engage parents and students before finalizing plans for spending priorities.

Richmond Pulse asked students at the town hall about the needs of their schools and how they would like to see money spent. Students said they want more engagement with their schools and more effective ways of learning.


DSC_0004“I think the money should go towards training for teachers. Teachers have their credentials, but professional development can teach them how to teach their students better.”

Darell Waters, 17, Gompers High School


DSC_0005“I’m a community person, so I think that we need to mix the community and school together. I want to see programs and clubs that get funding so students can go out and volunteer and represent our school and our district.”

Francisco Ortiz, 17, Kennedy High School


DSC_0024“I definitely think the money should go towards the academies. They help students prepare for careers they want to seek in the future. They are trying to close the ROTC academy, so I’m working with some students to make sure it stays open.”

Dayjah Burton, 16, DeAnza High School


DSC_0007“A lot of the money should go to more clubs and after-school activities that would get us interested [in] getting work done but having fun at the same time. Something like combining sports and a science project. I know my generation is lazy, so I feel if we use social media, or technology, and tie it into our schoolwork, that would help us concentrate more.”

Isaiah Noel Johnson, 16, Gompers High School


DSC_0012“For my school, I think books and after-school activities like clubs. For example [in] my chemistry class, we never have enough books for everyone. After school, I think we have an extra credit program, but I think more things to do after school would be good for us.”

– Ashley Raylene Samano, 17, Gompers High School


When Richmond Men Read, Kids Listen

By Nancy DeVille

When Ron Shaw stood up to read the children’s book, “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears,” his audience — second-graders at North Richmond’s Verde Elementary School — stared, giggled and raised their hands to ask questions.

Shaw thumbed through the pages of the West African tale, reading the colorful story about a mosquito who tells a lie to an iguana and annoys him. By the end of the story, the youngsters tugged at Shaw’s leg, their way of thanking him for coming to their class.

Shaw joined about 15 others who gathered at Verde for the Real Men Read program, in which men from a variety of professions, many who grew up in Richmond, have signed up to read in classrooms once a month. The program, part of a national initiative, has entered its second year at Verde.

The volunteers, mostly African American, offer a familiar message: Reading represents the foundation for all learning.

“This is nourishment for the kids, and letting them know that men do read and reading is fun,” Shaw said. “I always have a very good experience with the young people and I’ve been doing this the last two years.”

This year readers have visited the same class each month, allowing them to forge relationships with the students, while teachers select the books to reinforce what the students are already learning. Organizers say the volunteers become instant heroes for the children, who may not have someone to read to them at home, and that the program shows boys that men in all professions read for both work and relaxation.

“This is my responsibility,” Shaw said. “We are supposed to serve our kids, and whatever is going to make it better for them, we need to do it. Reading is a gift, and we’re letting students know that it can be fun and exciting.”

The program at Verde, launched by Rev. Cassandry Keys of the Davis Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, intends to put more men into the schools and in front of kids, some of whom lack positive male role models.

“Hopefully these readers will become mentors and give them hope that they can have a future outside of their current environment,” Keys said. “If we can get them interested in reading in elementary, those habits will continue in junior high and high school.”

She said she hopes other churches will consider partnering with Richmond elementary schools to continue the initiative across the city.

This school year, administrators have committed to improving literacy after testing revealed that student lagged two to three years behind grade level in reading skills. The Real Men Read program represents additional support, and school officials say students are checking more books out of the library and want to read more.

In February, Verde students read 2.4 million words — up from 1.2 million the month before. In March, students read 4.5 million words. Teachers say the students are voluntarily reading more books and that classroom disciplinary actions have declined.

“This is really showing my students that reading is a part of your life,” said Merrill Pierce, who teaches fourth and fifth grades at Verde. “They are just listening and there is no need for behavioral management. This year so many people have come together to make reading the focus of the school, and the kids are so into it. My students care about how many words they are reading.”

Who Will Benefit From Berkeley Campus at Richmond Bay?

By Melvin Willis | Photo by Alice Kantor

A new UC Berkeley campus being planned for Richmond must take into account the needs of the city’s residents. That’s the message the Richmond City Council sent UC Berkeley last month, when the council called on UC Berkeley to sign a community benefits agreement.

The agreement now awaits the signature of UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

But Richmond residents aren’t just waiting quietly. This week, about 30 people – some of whom stripped to their underwear — disrupted a UC Regents meeting to demand that UC sign the agreement with Richmond, the Daily Bruin reports.

Their concern is that the massive new campus, which has the potential to bring jobs and opportunity to Richmond, could also drive up housing prices so high that residents will be forced to leave the city.

The Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay by 2050, approved last year by the University of California Board of Regents, would be the largest economic development to come to Richmond since the shipyards of World War II. The campus is expected to be three-quarters the size of the University of California at Berkeley.

UC Berkeley is planning to build the campus at the Richmond Field Station, a site with sweeping views of the bay and the San Francisco skyline just off the Regatta Boulevard exit of Interstate 580.

Chancellor Dirks announced plans to develop the “global” campus in October, saying it would allow UC Berkeley to partner with universities and corporations on research into problems of worldwide concern. The project had initially been conceived as a part of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, but stalled after federal budget cutbacks two years ago.

The plan has been met with excitement by many in Richmond because of the job opportunities and economic boost the campus could bring to the city. Some 10,000 people will work there daily. Five million square feet of office and lab space will be developed.

But residents also want to make sure the community benefits from the new jobs and opportunities.

One major sticking point is that the project does not include housing, even though the development will likely have a major impact on raising housing costs in the area.

According to the report “Anchor Richmond” by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, more than 9,000 Richmond residents — nearly half of all renters — are low-income tenants overburdened by housing costs, making them vulnerable to displacement as rents rise and wealthier tenants move in.

According to the Association of Bay Area Governments, Richmond will need 742 more affordable housing units over the next eight years. While the city is developing new land use designations in the campus area, some community groups say they remain uncertain that it will meet the new affordable housing demand.

In response to these concerns, a coalition of community and labor groups has pushed the city council to adopt a legally binding community benefits agreement with the university.

The coalition, aided by the Haas Institute, researched ways the community could benefit from the campus, along with the potential impacts the proposed development would have on Richmond. Issues of concern included housing, local hiring, fair treatment of workers, education and business development.

In February, the coalition convened a town hall meeting at Miracle Temple on Cutting Boulevard to educate local residents about the campus and encourage Richmond City Council members Jael Myrick, Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez to pass a resolution calling on the university to sign the community benefits agreement.

As part of the agreement, the coalition called for funding for development of affordable housing, training for local workers to get jobs at the campus, a living wage policy for the campus and hiring local workers in the campus’s construction. It also called for a labor policy that would protect current UC Berkeley workers from losing their current positions, investment in local small business, and funding for local students to help receive career opportunities and education.


Melvin Willis is an organizer with ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment)

Farewell, Ferrari: A Star Falls At Richmond High

By Joanna Pulido

It was a chilly night in February at the North Coast Section Division II boys soccer championship, and there was Richmond High School computer graphics and animation teacher Mario Ferrari, cheering the home team loudly, clenching the rails of the stands and pacing back and forth with nerves and adrenaline.

His enthusiasm was magnetic. As he jumped up and down, his eyes glowed with excitement. “I was there at the last NCS game they won in 1994,” he said. “I still remember!”

News of his sudden death in his sleep earlier on March 9 has left many at the school contemplating their own memories of him. This was the same man introduced to me five years ago, when I attended Richmond High. I first met him during a reading period, but it was when he attended a couple of my track meets and practiced with me a few times that we became friends. His high energy, optimism and creativity were things that made me happy to be around.

“He had an aura and energy that always impacted people,” said his sister Elena Evans, alternately laughing and crying as she remembered him. “I think he got that from our mother, because I sure don’t have it.”

IMG_6276While attending his memorial ceremony on March 15, it became clear how much Ferrari affected me and many others. He was a colorful character — spontaneous, youthful, noble, artistic and perhaps sometimes goofy. This reminded people to live life with great excitement, full-on force, strong emotion, curiosity and passion.

Of Italian descent but raised in England, he moved to the United States in 1972 as a teenager, Evans said. While here, he attended Contra Costa College before transferring to the University of California at Berkeley, where he obtained his undergraduate degree and two masters degrees in art and printmaking. He began teaching at Richmond in 1993 and never left.

“He spent half his life here,” said John Ohlmann, a fellow teacher in the Multimedia Department at Richmond. “He evolved and grew with the school through the rough times and the better times. He really loved his kids and always advocated for them to have the most current equipment, and he always wanted them to learn the skills that would help them in employment… I can’t see how anyone can replace him.”

IMG_6280When news of his death first reached the school, students gathered to create a large memorial outside his classroom, making drawings, writing letters and bringing flowers and pictures. Some constructed a huge poster that described him as majestic, friendly, energetic, remarkable and intelligent. Among the tributes: a drawing of the boys soccer team with a trophy and the words, “we won NCS for you”.

Both students and teachers continue to deal with their shock and sadness as his absence becomes more real.

“He was part of the Richmond High culture,” said school Principal Jose DeLeon. “It’s really sad.”

Jamey Jenna, another teacher at Richmond, described him as a person who never really had anything bad to say about anyone.

“He was a fun person that never stopped enjoying his job, he never got angry and continued his art life his whole life,” she said.

Ohlmann elaborated on Ferrari’s creativity, which didn’t stop with the visual arts.

“He was a painter, a drummer and a DJ for parties,” Olhmann said. “He would exhibit his art and was once a part of a punk band. We would have long conversations about music… he was always of high interest and new ideas, of how to make things better.”

My own favorite memory of Ferrari comes from 2010, when the school held a fundraising event in which teachers would get hit in the face with cream pies for money. My best friend and fellow Richmond alumni Liliana Ontiveros paid $25 to pie him, but Ferrari was the last teacher to get pied and looked a bit nervous. Ontiveros smashed the first one onto his face, and after three more he became unrecognizable, his face covered in whip cream. But, through that, you could still see a huge smile as he gave a thumbs-up.

“That’s what I remember most about him,” said Ontiveros. “That he had a great sense of humor, and even though he sometimes got upset he would quickly be happy again.”

In my high school yearbook, Ferrari described me as a star in the school universe. But, as I talked to the students and staff at Richmond High, I realized more how he was the star of the school’s universe, and whom many of us will forever remember, miss, appreciate and admire.


New Charter Schools to Open in Fall

By Nancy DeVille

Two new charter schools focusing on technology, high graduation rates and college readiness will open near Hilltop Mall this fall, and are taking applications now.

Aspire Public Schools will open Aspire Richmond Technology Academy with an enrollment of 244 students in grades K-5 and Aspire Richmond California College Preparatory will enroll 280 students in grades 6-12 for the first year.

A 135,000 square foot building is under construction on Hilltop Mall Road, just across the street from Wal-Mart in Hilltop Mall.

“We like to go to places where families need some high quality options and we are really excited about being part of the landscape in Richmond,” said Kimi Kean, Bay Area superintendent of Aspire Public Schools. “We’ve been in communication with a lot of families who really want some different alternatives where they can send their kids. “We’ve gotten a great response so far.”

Aspire officials say their small class sizes, technology emphasis, variety of advanced placement offerings, high graduation rates and track record of 100 percent of graduating seniors accepted to four-year colleges are attractive to parents.

The school will use curriculum aligned with Common Core state standards and to earn a high school diploma students must pass five college courses. Aspire partners with UC Berkeley to connect students with mentors and provide opportunities to audit classes and summer sessions, which are held at the university campus.

“When we receive students in kindergarten we start talking and working with families about college as the end goal,” Kean said. “Our approach is that all of our students are going to college.”

Aspire received final approval from the West Contra Costa school board in December. The district currently has seven charter schools operating in Richmond.

The schools are under construction on a site that was once home to an Albertsons grocery store. Most recently there was a bank and a few businesses operating on the property before they were razed to make room for the school.

“Some were surprised it was not a grocery store, but a school,” said Cesar Zepeda, president of the newly formed Hilltop District Neighborhood Council. “But a lot of neighbors are glad to see something being built and not just vacant buildings because that area has been undeveloped for quite some time.”

Aspire Public Schools was launched in 1998 when longtime public school educator Don Shalvey joined forces with Silicon Valley entrepreneur Reed Hastings. Nineteen years later, Aspire serves 14,000 students, predominantly from low-income backgrounds, in 38 schools throughout California and in Memphis, Tenn.

In the Bay Area, there are 10 schools in Oakland, Berkeley and East Palo Alto. Aspire holds about three more weeks of classes than a traditional district calendar.

“We believe kids need more time and support to really reach these high expectations around college readiness,” Kean said.

Since roughly 40 percent of the students at Aspire’s Berkeley campus commute from Richmond, school officials have decided to close that location when the Hilltop facility opens this fall. The Berkeley campus has an enrollment of 560 with 48 percent Hispanic and African American respectively, 1 percent Pacific Islander, 1 percent Asian American and 1 percent Caucasian, according to the school’s website. Eighty-four percent of the students come from low-income families, officials said.

Aspire is currently accepting applications and if the number of students who wish to attend exceeds the school’s capacity, attendance will be determined by a public random lottery drawing.

To learn more: For more information or to apply to Aspire Public Schools, visit http://aspirepublicschools.org/enroll/.

“Focusing on the Youth” – Q&A with Kyra Worthy of For Richmond

Interview, Vernon Whitmore

EDITORS NOTE: Kyra Worthy is the Executive Director of Chevron backed non-profit For Richmond, an organization dedicated to uniting the community and taking active steps toward tackling issues facing Richmond residents. Worthy says her greatest gift is that she won’t accept no for answer.

Incoming Chair of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, Vernon Whitmore, sat down with Worthy to discuss her passion for Richmond’s youth.

Vernon Whitmore: For Richmond is sponsoring a Black History Month breakfast February 25 with Willie L. Brown, former mayor of San Francisco. How has Mr. Brown’s work at the Willie L. Brown Jr. Leadership Center at San Francisco State helped inspire For Richmond’s own soon-to-be-unveiled leadership series for Richmond youth? What is your ultimate aim with this initiative?

Kyra-Worthy-PhotoKyra Worthy: My goal for having that is to be able to develop young leaders within the community. We want to use Mayor Brown’s program at San Francisco State as the goal, and a model, but we are going to implement a few other items within the leadership course to be able to help young people make choices about what they want to do in their life. And also help them gain some confidence and then build some leadership skills to better serve the community.

All of this is in hope that they would want to be involved within the community in which they live and work. A lot of young people right now aren’t engaged at all and so there’s a big age gap with folks who consider themselves as leaders and young people who aren’t being included at all. They are the ones that will somewhat take the torch, or have to live in this legacy that has been built.

In particular with young people of color, we want to make sure that they understand the skills and history that has come from being just community developers, period.

We’re not just looking for folks just to be voices. We want folks to be active participants and involved in the process of designing Richmond.

VW: Last summer, For Richmond sponsored several Richmond high school students’ attendance at out of state collegiate summer programs for early college preparation experiences. Do you plan to offer the same program to Richmond youth this summer and if so, what do you hope to achieve with this effort?

KW: Yes, we will be doing that program this summer again and we’ve extended the program to to include MIT and Morehouse College. We’re including MIT because they’re looking to fill the engineering labor pool and a lot of young black men here in Richmond qualify to go to that program.

We’ll be sponsoring eight young men to go to the MIT program and the Morehouse Leadership program, which is only a week and a half, to sort of get the young men exposed to other young men who think like them and also who look like them. To gain some peer support around leadership, and valuing their education, and then bringing those ideas back to the community and hopefully spreading the word.

We hand pick the kids who qualify for each program, they attend the program and when they come back home they tell their friends all about this great experience they had.

It is definitely spreading through word of mouth, and it’s very helpful to to the school district, as far as getting kids motivated.

VW: I understand For Richmond is focused on assisting West Contra Costa Unified School District with lowering student truancy in Richmond. What strategy will you employ to address this problem and why is this issue a priority for your organization?

KW: Well we’re going to work with the faith-based community, and use their vans that aren’t in use during weekdays. We’re calling this program the Village Vans, and we’re going to establish bus stops throughout the community to help kids, and their families, get them to school on time.

We’re also going to look at the data of who’s truant and have a conversation one on one, my staff with the parent, explaining to them why getting to school on time is important and how being truant is affecting the students’ academics.

By doing that we’re hoping to build a relationship with those parents and then we can ask what else might be going on at home, what problems there are getting kids to school on time, and assist them in any way needed.

I think that it’s important because, of course, the district loses money, but also as a community, we’re failing our kids, and we’re just allowing them to walk by every day late to school.

The College Myth: Why Most Students Need More Than Four Years

by Joanna Pulido

The teacher smiled and held a hat as a line of about a dozen students looked at each other nervously. Inside the hat were small pieces of paper with each student’s name. Luck would determine who would be part of the class, and who would have to continue the search.

Those of us already enrolled in the class waited quietly, watching the smiles and frowns as lucky students moved closer to graduation, and others possibly further. In my four and a half years at San Francisco State University, I saw this scenario play out year after year. Some teachers tried to help us by taking into consideration the number of credits students needed, or by adding more students to the class than the limit stipulated — but often times getting into a class just felt like a matter of luck.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to SFSU, in many universities across California it’s difficult for students to graduate on time because of the space constraints in required classes, tuition costs, credits lost when transferring schools and generally not enough courses offered. And, a new study shows that the commonly held goal of graduating within four-years is unattainable for a growing number of students.

Four-Year Myth, a report from the national nonprofit, Complete College America, declares that a 4-year degree has become a myth in American higher education. The study finds that the majority of full-time American college students do not graduate on time, costing them thousands of dollars in extra college-related expenses.

Policy experts who analyzed the statistics believe a more realistic benchmark for graduation is six years for a bachelor’s degree and three years for a “two-year” certificate.

While in college I heard numerous friends and students debate whether higher education is worth the debt. It’s difficult to maintain an optimistic outlook with increasing tuition costs, long commutes and a bleak job market for graduates.

Fellow students frequently bowed to the pressure of not wanting to fall too deep into debt and would work part-time or full-time while in school, which usually meant extending their time in school. Not a great tradeoff.

Ideally, students would be able to make classes fit into the demands of the rest of their lives. As is, it works the other way around. Students are given a day and time to register for classes depending on a number of variables: what year of school they’re in, whether they’re athletes or in a special program because of disabilities or income level. Often, popular classes—and even those needed for graduation—fill up fast. Imagine being given a day and time to register only to discover that the classes you need are already full, with a full wait list too. This is the frustrating reality for many students.

We are told that education is the way to success and better lives, but for many it becomes a stressful cycle and may not guarantee anything more than years of debt and an unfinished dream.

As a solution, Complete College America suggests a more structured higher education delivery method, called Guided Pathways to Success (GPS), which would provide students with a direct route to graduation. Utilizing GPS, majors are organized into a semester-by-semester set of courses that lead to on time graduation.

My first two and half years at SFSU, I played for the women’s soccer team, which helped me obtain priority registration, and due to my low income background I was part of the EOP (Educational Opportunity Program), which also offered priority registration. Both of these programs also provided tutoring, counseling, money for books and guidance. To stay in these programs I had to keep a 2.0 GPA and complete 12 units each semester, which kept me on track for graduation.

Ultimately, these structured programs helped me complete classes, save money, and provided moral support that made me feel more confident in my college experience. If in practice, GPS functions the way the programs I was part of did, it may very well prove to be the answer to the increasing time and costs of college.

Down a Player: How a High School Coach and Basketball Team is Carrying on in the Wake of a Homicide

News Feature, Chanelle Ignant


At a Friday night basketball game in late November, Richmond High School’s boys basketball coach, Robert Collins, paced the sidelines, yelling instructions to his team.

With less than 30 seconds left, and only a two-point lead over the Mount Diablo Devils, Collins had one command for his team.

“Don’t foul the shooter! Don’t foul the shooter,” he said, his booming voice carrying throughout the gym.

The Devils tied the game at 73 with 12 seconds to go.

The pressure was on for the Oilers. With the ball in play, they managed to make it across half court, but fumbled the ball near their baseline.

With five seconds left, senior Sahr Kelly recovered the ball and took a difficult shot from underneath the basket.

The buzzer sounded. Kelly’s shot went in, and the Oilers were victorious.

As the team rushed from the bench, surrounding Kelly in celebration, they left behind a jersey laid out on one of the chairs. It was emblazoned with the number 4—a memorial to the team’s fallen player, Rodney Frazier Jr., who was killed out front of his North Richmond home in November.

Collins, now sobbing, walked through the post-game ritual of handshakes and saying “good game” to the other team.

His love of the game, of his players and of Richmond’s program was evident. The sense of loss for a player absent that Friday night was palpable.

“This game was special,” he said on the way to the bus. “That was so special.”

In the wake of the fatal shooting of Frazier, the 16-year-old junior guard for the Oilers who was gunned down on November 7, Collins said he and the team have been riding an emotional roller coaster.

“We’re ready for some normalcy again,” said the veteran coach of 18 years.

IMG_9985Collins gained media attention in recent weeks after co-organizing a rally for Frazier at Richmond City Hall where hundreds of players, community members and leaders gathered to honor Frazier and call for change.

His passion, often witnessed on the sideline at games, turns to indignation whenever he speaks of what happened to Frazier.

“Why did they have to take someone out who was just on the brink of becoming someone unbelievably special in life?” Collins asked. “Why did that have to happen? I’m never going to get the answer,” he said. “No one is.”

Collins began coaching at Richmond High in 2002, replacing the famed Coach Ken Carter. He left in 2006 to coach at Amador Valley High, but resigned after two years when parents complained about his intense coaching style.

He returned to Richmond as a physical education teacher in 2008 and became coach once more, fulfilling his wish to “be a part of kids lives.”

“I’m older and a lot wiser and a part of a school community now, which is what I always wanted to be,” Collins said.

Collins admits that the challenges are great for Richmond High students.

“It’s pretty heavy for these young people that see a lot of rocky stuff on a day to day occurrence,” he said. “I’m sensitive to it, but I will never understand it.”

He said basketball keeps the players going because it gives them a physical outlet for their pain and a common goal to work toward.

Despite the recent tragedy, he considers Richmond High his saving grace.

“I was never really part of a school community, until I got to Richmond,” he said.

IMG_9998And that community relies on him now. On Friday night, as his voice carried throughout the gym, the intensity that he says forced him out of a suburban school is what the Richmond players look up to.

“He gives these kids and this school and this program everything he has,” said Kellis Love, the Richmond junior varsity boy basketball coach. “He’s one of a kind.”

So far, Collins said, the team is playing “with the idea that we wish Rodney was here doing it with us.”

“It is what it is,” Collins said. “We’re going to have to get through it and go forward.”

Now on a two-game winning streak, the Oilers are gaining momentum. With Collins’ leadership from the sidelines, and Frazier’s memory pushing them to succeed, the boys of Richmond High will keep playing one game at a time.